Cali pushed past the crowds of people as she felt her entire world crumble around her. This couldn’t be happening. Not now. Not to her.
And not here.
She could see heads turning to stare at her out of the corner of her eye, and she tried to move faster out of the packed ballroom. This was supposed to be a fun night. She’d put on her brand new dress, gotten her hair and makeup done, and was going to hobnob with the elite of New York City.
The dress Easson had bought her. The tickets to the party Easson had provided.
Her hands trembled as she finally reached the exit to the ballroom and emerged into the deserted hallway on the other side.
She turned and fell against the cool wall, staring inside the still open door into the party. All the people in the ballroom seemed so happy and carefree. She shouldn’t be surprised. The rich and powerful didn’t have all that many reasons to stress out. She’d been around enough of them to know their made-up dramas and issues.
It was one of the reasons she liked the Devereaux brothers so much. They mostly avoided the theatrics of so many other people she’d met in the high-class society. At least until Easson. Easson, who’d been so careful with her. Who’d been so thoughtful and generous every step of their relationship.
Easson, who’d apparently been using her to get close to her boss and his family.
Her hands shook even more, and she clenched them into fists in an effort to calm herself. Well, who was she kidding? There was no calm right now. But she could at least try to appear calm. That was all that mattered anyway. Even if she was falling apart inside, she’d look put together. So if Luke or Evelyn or Easson found her in the hall, she wouldn’t be some blubbery mess with eyeliner rolling down her cheeks.
She rubbed at her temples and started to run her hands through her loose, blonde hair, only to remember that the curls were carefully held in place by half a can of hairspray.
She didn’t belong here. Luke and Michael might be nice enough to let her fit in, but being here, realizing exactly how little she meant to everyone she thought cared about her, it was as if she were at her first day of college all over again. Knowing that she was the one thing not like the others.
After years of transforming into the perfect chameleon that could go anywhere, do anything, suddenly she was right back on the outside looking in. Literally.
Cali let out a small laugh as she realized how ridiculous she was being. She wasn’t back to the girl she’d been. She’d spent years building her skills and network with the Devereaux brothers.
Someone started to walk out of the exit and Cali quickly turned and walked away. Great. Now she was that woman crying outside a party. She was a walking, teary cliché. Fantastic.
She moved around a corner. This hallway also opened into the ballroom as well, but the doors were all closed. At least now she’d have more privacy. Cali opened her small clutch that was just big enough to fit a lipstick, phone, and credit cards. She’d arrived in Easson’s private car service, but she sure as hell wasn’t leaving with him. There was a chance there would be cabs waiting in front of the building, but she wasn’t taking the chance. She dialed her go-to cab company and they said they’d be waiting for her in ten minutes.
She put the phone back in her bag and took a deep breath. She’d be home within the hour and she could figure out her next steps from there. She couldn’t stay after this, could she?
But she’d walked out quickly. Maybe Luke had a reason for keeping her in the dark. Maybe there was some sort of magical explanation that would make everything go away.
Cali let out another smile to keep from crying. What could Luke say? Even if he had a perfectly good explanation, she knew he’d been using her. She’d been asking to take on more responsibility for years and every time, he’d systematically knocked her down for one reason or another. But that ended now. She wasn’t going to be used by them anymore.
And that meant she’d have to walk away. Leave the only place she’d worked for the past ten years and start from scratch.
Damn it, the tears started to come back. Why couldn’t they at least wait until she was in the safety of her own apartment? But they didn’t wait.
Cali covered her face with her hands and just gave in for a moment. One moment where she didn’t have to fight to be the perfect socialite or assistant or girlfriend.
“Hey there,” said a deep voice from beside her.
The tears were gone in a heartbeat as Cali jumped at the unexpected intrusion. She looked over at the man who stood only a few feet from her. She hadn’t heard him approach at all, which was surprising considering how big he was.